Encounters

by Lorenzo Piccoli


There is a curious twist of fate in the lives of two Italian Jewish writers and survivors to the holocaust, Primo Levi and Natalia Ginzburg. Their existences crossed path on three occasion and it was never on purpose.

The first encounter took place in 1946, when Primo Levi wrote Se questo è un uomo, a book about his incarceration in the Auschwitz concentration camp from February 1944 until the camp was liberated on January 27, 1945. The manuscript was rejected out of the hands of the publisher’s reader, whom was later discovered to be Natalia Ginzburg. The second encounter occurred one year later, when Primo Levi finally found a small press house available to publish his book: it was De Silva, that had been founded and dedicated to the memory of Leone Ginzburg, who happened to be Natalia Ginzuburg’s husband. The book, however, sold only few of the 2.500 and most of them were remaindered in a warehouse in Florence and destroyed in the great flood there twenty years later. It was only after the publication of Primo Levi’s second book La Tregua that Se questo è un uomo gained national and international acclaim. This happened in 1963, when the newly published Levi’s second book came third in the national Strega Prize behind Lessico Famigliare, a book written by Natalia Ginzburg. This was the third and last occasion when the lives of these two Italians met. In spite of these occasional encounters, it remains unknown whether the two writers ever met in person.

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